Holland’s Dementia Village Revolutionizes Alzheimer’s Caregiving

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A self-contained village in the Netherlands is modernizing the way we care for dementia patients.

The Alzheimer’s Association’s latest statistics reveal that the world’s population is aging with more speed and difficulty. One in three seniors dies with dementia. 25 percent of caretakers are long-distance providers, costing the nation more than $200 billion by giving away 17.5 billion unpaid hours of care each year. By 2050, it is expected that Alzheimer’s will cost the nation $1.2 trillion as the number of patients with dementia increases.

Holland caregivers, seeking to improve the state of dementia care, designed Hogeweyk, a self-contained “dementia village” where adults with severe dementia can maintain their sense of independence while receiving the care they require. Although the monthly cost of residency is similar to an average nursing home at $6,555/month, Hogeweyk offers its residents a lifestyle that is incomparable to other facilities. Its unique building blocks are based on the motto “Living a lifestyle, just like before.” 23 apartments divided into six “varieties” of life— Christian, Artisan, Indonesian, Cultural, Homey, and Gooise (upper class)— give residents a familiar and comfortable living environment. The interior design and dining preferences as well as the experiences and interests of the residents are taken into account when they are placed into a building block. Residents live in groups of six to eight, with at least two trained caregivers who assist them throughout the day.

From the outside, the village looks impenetrable, with gates and fences surrounding the perimeter. This separation between the interior and the outside world, however, allows patients to roam freely and safely as they enjoy amenities such as a theater, a hair salon, a restaurant, a café, a grocery store, and a number of parks and gardens. They can also socialize in public spaces or join clubs for music, baking, painting, and gardening.

Residents are expected to help with everything from cooking to cleaning to one another, and they have the mobility to shop for themselves as well as choose which activities they plan on participating in each day. This freedom is particularly invaluable for dementia patients, who often experience fluxes in memory that can be a source of confusion and agitation. In these moments, rather than finding themselves in the detached atmosphere of a nursing home, residents are surrounded by neighbors they know in a village that reminds them of home. The staff—240 trained geriatric nurses and specialists wearing street clothes instead of white coats—live with the residents and provide any care necessary while still allowing them to make their own decisions.

Hogeweyk serves as a model of the way nursing homes should operate, treating residents without condescension and tailoring a unique experience to fit the needs of each patient. According to Psychology Today, after a few weeks of residency, patients required less medication and became much calmer. Delegates from other countries have visited the village and created similar homes, and with time, the Hogeweyk design may become the norm across the world as a cost-effective and humane response to an aging population.

Photo by Erkelens Digital Imaging, licensed under Creative Commons.

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